Friday, October 01, 2010

Reality and Other Figures of Speech

No burning absence of desire to post anything, so I grabbed this one from three years ago and rethunk it:

Metaphor is "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in the place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them" (Webster's). In short, it is figurative language, which is to say, language, for all language is ultimately a "figure of speech," is it not?

How then does the B'ob differ from deconstructionists, who also believe that reality is made of language? Fair question.

Human beings communicate through symbols, and all symbols are ultimately metaphors. Language as such is nothing but an endlessly interlocking series of metaphors, but where I differ with naughty deconstructionists is in affirming that human language is woven out of the universal Logos that necessarily subtends it.

In other words, for the deconstructionist, there truly is no there there, no ultimate ground or referent for language. But I am quite certain there is a therethere, which we call the Logos. Without it, all language really would be about "nothing," and life would be a long and tedious Seinfeld episode.

There is nothing you can say about anything that isn't laden with implicit or explicit metaphors, which is one of the reasons why it is so absurd for the materialist to object to religion, since the idea of solid matter is itself a sort of airy metaphor, just a fanciful concept based upon the illusions of our nervous system, illusions like "solidity" or unambiguous "place."

Scientists often conflate the abstract and the concrete, and essentially extend the concretions of the nervous system into an abstract worldview. Which is fine, so long as you don't confuse them with metaphysical truth, or with the Ultimate Real.

For their part, so-called fundamentalist religionists often do the opposite, which is to say, concretize the abstract. But only God can really do that, since the cosmos itself is nothing but a concretion or coagulation in a small corner of the Divine Mind.

As mentioned a couple of days ago, one of the purposes of scripture -- which employs countless metaphors and other seemingly concrete images -- is to follow it back upstream to its hidden source, the "place" from which revelation perpetually flows like a spring from the ground; indeed, the place from which language itself flows.

It's not that scientists don't use metaphor in most every statement they make about reality, just that the metaphor has generally become dead, or saturated in Bion's terminology. Often, advances in science cannot be made until a new metaphor is deployed.

For example, the so-called Newtonian worldview regarded the universe as a giant mechanism. Seeing it as such is undoubtedly useful, and applying it to our experience discloses a range of additional "facts" to ponder. But pushed too far, the metaphor is eventually confronted with facts it cannot explain.

That happened with the development of quantum and relativity theories, way back in the 20th century. There is simply no way to understand the quantum world with the machine metaphor. Rather, it is much more like an ocean, a roiling cauldron of ceaselessly flowing energy that tosses up explicate forms from the implicate order.

Or better yet, it's like the infinitely complex global weather system. We see things like distinct clouds, but we cannot see (with our eyes) that the cloud is simply an outwardly visible residue of an inconceivably complex global weather system. Only Al Gore and his co-religionists think they can see the latter, but of course their heads are up their assumptions. As Michael Crichton has written, Gore's linear paradigm is so last millennium.

This is one of the things Joyce was up to in Finnegans Wake, which is a veritable sea of metaphor constructed out of dozens of languages. It is as if the usual solidity of language has "melted" and we are left with only the quantum realm, so to speak, from which it emerges. Throughout the book, various intrinsic complementarities clothe themselves in time and space with the dream logic of the night -- just like the thing we call "history." You might say that Joyce shows us the complementarity of his & herstory, or Myth & Myster E.

Indeed, one of the central philosophical ideas to emerge from quantum theory is that of complementarity. That is, we can never affirm one thing about the quantum realm without "para-doxically" (which literally means "beyond speech") affirming its complementary opposite. Therefore, is the world made of particles? Yes. Is it made of waves? Yes. But these are opposites. Of course. Well, not really. They are complementary, co-arising simultaneously.

Other important irreducible complementarities in the manifest world include mind/matter, subject/object, unity/diversity, form/substance, individual/group, time/eternity, space/time, male/female, and Lennon McCartney.

Incidentally, one might be tempted to think that Democrat/Republican (or liberalism/leftism) represents a true complementarity, but it doesn't. The true complementarity is within conservatism itself (as always, I am speaking of the classical liberalism of our founders, the closest we have to a "perfect" political philosophy).

Among others, the latter embodies the dynamic complementarity between liberty and order, permanence and change, static truth and catabolic capitalism. Leftism is not complementary to liberalism, any more than disease is complementary to health. Leftism explicitly denies many of the most important human complementarities that drive change and progress; for example, the complementarities between male and female, child and adult, sacred and profane, equality and liberty.

Furthermore, leftism imposes false complementarities such as good/evil. Only in this way can the left maintain that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Evil is not a complement of the Good, but its deprivation.

Nor are freedom and property complementary, the former being rooted in the latter; which in turn is rooted in the 2nd Amendment, which is to say, "don't steal my stuff or I'll squeeze this trigger, because when you steal property you are undermining liberty, and therefore the ground and basis of human life and dignity."

Perfection/imperfection aren't complementary, either. Rather, imperfection is again a deprivation, a declension from the Absolute, as the celestial rays proceed from the vertical cosmic center to the periphery, which, as Schuon has written, "tends" toward a nothing that can never actually be realized. But the hardcore leftist feels a sort of frisson in riding the winds of the ray of creation all the way into the darkness of nihilism. The thrill of the fall, so to speak.

If you don't realize that imperfection is a necessary deprivation, you may be tempted to try to impose perfection from the herebelow, which is one the left's specialties. But as Russell Kirk wrote, conservatives well understand that human nature "suffers irremediably from certain grave faults":

"Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent -- or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: 'the ceremony of innocence is drowned.' The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell."

A leftist-integralist blogger was impressed by the following quote from Ken Wilber, which is about as good an example of the need for buddhaflaw correcting as I could imagine:

"Spirit is not the good half of the opposites, but the ground of all the opposites, and our 'salvation,' as it were, is not to find the good half of the dualism but to find the Source of both halves of the dualism, for that is what we are in truth. We are both sides in the great Game of Life, because we -- you and I, in the deepest recesses of our very Self -- have created both of these opposites in order to have a grand game of cosmic checkers."

Please. This attitude, if applied to real life, would end in leftist horror. It is another false complementarity based upon partial understanding. For as Schuon writes,

"Assuredly it can be said that the Divinity is 'beyond good and evil,' but on condition of adding that this 'beyond' is in its turn a 'good' in the sense that it testifies to an Essence in which there could be no shadow of limitation or privation, and which consequently cannot but be the absolute Good, or absolute Plenitude."

The idea that conservatives "don't want change" is also preposterous. We do, and desperately. But we don't want to accomplice it by renaming evil good. And we want to evolve toward the Good, not have it imposed by leftist elites with their own peculiar ideas about how we should live. The conservative, according to Kirk, feels

"affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism [read: denial of complementarity] of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality."

The so-called "progressive" fails to consider one of the truly enduring complementarities in governance, which is that whenever government does something for you, it does something to you. Which is why, according to Kirk,

"When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces..., its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate."

In other words, progress and permanence are complementary, not opposites: "the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression. He thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old."

Clearly, "Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism" (Kirk).

Which is why I say that leftism is truly a death cult. Hey, don't believe me. Just judge it by its fruits. And nuts. And flakes. Speaking literally.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Truthsong to Love

I'm a little tired this morning, so I don't know if a post will appear, and I don't want to force anything. Not a problem. The Intellectual Life is so filled with pithy little maxims, that I can just rebleat some of them without having to comment. Or, maybe one of them will provoke a post, and off we go.

I'm going to organize them in such a manner that the essence of a full-service "Christian gnana yoga" emerges:

Know that "Every study is a study of eternity.... keep yourself in the state of eternity, your heart submissive to truth." Slacken the tempo of your life.

Next, "Plunge every day of your life into the spring which quenches and yet ever renews your thirst.... The soul is that secret spring: do not try prematurely to clear up its mystery.... impatience is a revolt against Him." (Here again, this is the meaning of "To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one.")

Begin by laying your foundation "according to the height you wish to reach. Broaden the opening of the excavation according to the depth it has to reach."

"There are books everywhere, and only a few are necessary.... In ourselves also there are volumes and texts of great value that we do not read."

More importantly, "the value of a book" is limited by "what you are capable of getting out of it." Our task is to find "a way of entry through them into a new domain." Thus, "The source of knowledge is not in books, it is in reality, and in our thought. Books are signposts; the road is older, and no one can make the journey for us...."

"We think too little of the privilege of this bond with the greatest minds.... Next after men of genius come those who can recognize their worth."

"Every truth is life, direction, a way leading to the end of man.... one is fully oneself in surrendering to what is above self."

To paraphrase, we should turn our eyes toward first causes and our hearts toward supreme ends: "[I]ntellection passes from God to God, as it were, through us. God is its first cause; he is its last end."

In order to "properly to regulate the intelligence..., qualities quite different from intelligence itself are required."

"Love is the beginning of everything in us.... Truth visits those who love her, who surrender to her, and this love cannot be without virtue.... This submission to truth is the binding condition for communion with it."

"Truth is, as it were, the special divinity of the thinker.... By practicing the truth that we know, we merit the truth that we do not yet know."

"No branch of knowledge is self-sufficing; no discipline looked at by itself alone gives light enough for its own path.... There is a great revelation in discovering the hidden links that exist between ideas and systems the most dissimilar.... Each truth is a fragment which does not stand alone but reveals connections on every side. Truth itself is one, and the Truth is God.... "

"Everything is in everything, and partitions are only possible by abstraction.... Those who rest satisfied with provisional answers to problems that in reality remain unsolved, warp the answers given to them" (and thereby warp themselves, I might add).

"Hence, for the fully awakened soul, every truth is a meeting place.... Everything that instructs us leads to God on a hidden byway. Every authentic truth is in itself eternal, and its quality of eternity turns us towards the eternity of which it is the revelation."

Theology inserts "a divine graft into the tree of knowledge, thanks to which this tree can bear fruits that are not its own. It loses nothing of its sap thereby, on the contrary, the sap circulates gloriously."

As a result of "human effort [and] the collaboration of heaven" (↑↓), a "soaring impulse is given to knowledge," all branches of which "are vivified and all disciplines broadened.... Everything makes one harmony in the concert of the human and the divine."

However, on a discordant note, "he who is united to men and to nature without being hiddenly united to God... is but the subject of a kingdom of death.... [S]uch are those... who are out of their element in any higher region," and "who would like to reduce others to their narrow, elementary school orthodoxy."

The setting of our knowledge is the cosmos; and this is itself organization, structure.

Serve truth!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Psychic Catastrophe and the Repression of God

Some readers were a little unclear on Sertillanges' statement that "To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one." I suppose I was thinking of Bion's theory of thinking, one aspect of which he calls PS<-->D, which is "the emotional experience of a sense of discovery of coherence."

Bion references Poincaré, who wrote of how a new scientific discovery unites "elements long since known, but till then scattered and seemingly foreign to each other, and suddenly introduces order where the appearance of disorder reigned. Then it enables us to see at a glance each of these elements in the place it occupies in the whole. Not only is the new fact valuable on its own account, but it alone gives a value to the old facts it unites" (emphasis mine).

The passage is worth quoting in full: "Our mind is as frail as our senses are; it would lose itself in the complexity of the world if that complexity were not harmonious; like the short-sighted, it would only see the details, and would be obliged to forget each of these details before examining the next, because it would be incapable of taking in the whole. The only facts worthy of our attention are those which introduce order into this complexity and so make it accessible to us" (emphasis mine).

Thus, the "D" in PS<-->D refers to what Bion calls the "selected fact," and we can see how in psychic development, one selected fact becomes a part (PS) of a new whole (D), as in metabolism (discussed yesterday). Indeed, this is why you are what you eat, and why you should think twice about what you shove into your head.

Hinshelwood elaborates: "In the creative process, thinking involves the dismantling of previous views and theories, with the development of new views. In changing one's way of thinking, the container has to be dissolved before it is reformed.... When this happened, Bion thought, it caused intense emotional experiences -- so intense that he used the term catastrophe [to refer to] the mental event of having a new thought." We must tolerate disintegration (catabolism), but more importantly, integration (anabolism).

Why integration? You don't need to be a licentious coonical pslackologist to understand this. All you have to do is observe the maturational process in your child. Every significant development is fraught with ambivalence, as it represents a catastrophic departure from the familiar.

Watch how a young child who is exploring the world will constantly look back and "touch base" with mother. In fact, they've done studies in which mothers are instructed to reflect a proud smile or a worried frown back to the child. Those with the frowning mothers immediately cease their explorations and scurry back to her arms, because the unknown becomes too frightening without the background of psychic "support."

When a patient comes in for therapy, it is always because, in some form or fashion, he has not found the "selected fact" of his life. More problematically, this Fact can be forcibly prevented by not allowing its constituent parts to come together.

Indeed, sometimes the Fact is unconsciously attacked and dismantled, which Bion called "attacks on linking." It's a more sophisticated way of accounting for the same phenomena as repression. Repression is a very linear and three-dimensional way of looking at it, when the mind exists in more dimensions than just three or four.

In mother worlds, it's not like taking the unwanted fact -- imagine, say, a balloon -- and just shoving it beneath the surface of the water. Rather, the balloon is first rendered into bits, which makes repression unnecessary, since you've "un-Known" the thing that needs to be repressed (and bear in mind, of course, that you must already have some inchoate awareness of the truth in order to have to deny it; you might say that only the Lie requires a thinker).

This is what I call a "dimensional defense," because another way of doing it is to simply live one's life in a mental space of fewer dimensions, where none of the unwanted meanings can coalesce or be consciously available. No mind, no problem, so to speak (although this usually causes problems for other people due to acting out the unKnown thoughts).

I hope this isn't abstract, but rather, quite clear and even experience-near. All of us have done it at one time or another. If I were a more literate or even more caffeinated fellow, I'm sure I could make reference to famous characters in literature. Sometimes the whole plot can revolve around That Which Must Not Be Known by the character(s). The one fact that is desperately needed in order to grow and move beyond the psychic impasse is the one fact that is denied.

But denied does not mean forgotten, so the fact nevertheless has a kind of shadowy, persecutory existence at the periphery of local being. It is like a thought in search of a thinker who will host it. It is "out there" wanting to come together, so it requires a considerable outlay of psychic energy to forcibly separate its constituents. It's just like your body, which has a powerful "tendency to wholeness." Cut or injure it, and it "wants" to heal and revert to wholeness (indeed, heal and whole are etymologically related).

Your mind and soul quite obviously run along the same lines, since the soul is the form of the body. It wishes to be whole, to such an extent that you might say that this is its earthly mission.

But there are various degrees of wholeness. There is material wholeness, say, a rock or crystal. There is biological wholeness, i.e., the living body, and there is psychic wholeness, the true self.

There is also spiritual wholeness. However, like psychic wholeness, it cannot be given "all at once." Why not? Because we do not exist in only three or four dimensions, like material objects. Rather, it requires at least a single lifetome to compose the book of "who we are," so to speak. This becoming is a ceaseless process of PS<-->D -- of psychospiritual metabolism -- which is why "To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one."

Think of the difference between a rock and the simplest body, even that of a single cell. Both are "one." But what a difference! They tell us that the cell contains more information than what, the entire New York City Library or something? A humanly inconceivable degree of multiplicity, and yet, a harmonious one.

And it only becomes more multiple -- and therefore more richly one -- the higher we move up the cosmic food chain. At the very top we find this thing called God or O, which is -- you guessed it -- the simplest thing imaginable, since it effortlessly unifies all this mayaplicity. Or, all of it is re-solved, as it were, in God.

And this, don't you know, is what we were driving at in our book, which begins in the multiplicity of Cosmogenesis and ends in the unity of Cosmotheosis, or the conscious divinization of all reality, both vertical and horizontal (again, that Rich One).

The principle difference between theists and atheists is that the latter cling to the absurd belief that there is no nonlocal sponsor of all of this dynamic wholeness within and without, no ground and no end, no origin and no destiny. Again, this is strictly absurd.

This is why philosophical time has been moving backward since the great synthesis of Thomas Aquinas, who, suffice to say, wanted to develop a philosophy that excluded nothing, whether horizontal or vertical; in other words, the richest One man is capable of attaining. Pieper:

"... [H]e was intrepidly affirming the whole of natural reality, not only with regard to objective existence, but also within man himself.... [I]t was his life's task to join these two extremes which seemed inevitably to be pulling away from one another."

One cosmos under God, as one wagdaddit:

We are Ones again back by oursoph before the beginning, before old nobodaddy committed wholly matterimany and exhaled himself into a world of sorrow and ignorance. Back upin a timeless with the wonderfully weird Light with which everything was made, a Light no longer dispersed and refracted through so many banged-up and thunder-sundered images of the One. Back at the still point between the vertical and horizontal, where eternity pierces the present moment and we are unborn again (p. 248).



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Developing Spiritual Strength and Flexibility with Verticalisthenics

We're discussing The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. Again, although the word "intellectual" is perfectly acceptable if you already know what the author means by it, a more precise title -- at least for our time -- might have been something like Knowing and Being: Conditions and Methods for the Realization and Transmission of Spiritual Truth.

A key point is that if you are not living the truth, then you aren't really knowing it. It would be analogous to knowing all about light but still living in darkness.

Note that one of the two or three central principles of Christianity is that ultimate truth is a being, a person. This places it in direct contrast to, say, Islam, in which the central principles are God and Koran. The Koran is the word of God -- literally -- whereas the Bible is only word about God, who is a person.

The ontological implications could hardly be more dramatic. Just ask yourself: what kind of knowledge is a person? You could spend your whole life trying to answer it. And even then, the point is not to know the answer but to become it -- or to participate in the being of personal (or personal being of) Truth.

The beingness of this Truth could never be explicated in the linear form of a book, not even the Bible, especially if one approaches it with the wrong (intellectual) being.

Recall what we were saying yesterday about the cultivation of vertical memory in order to attune ourselves to the Divine. Sertillanges writes that it is necessary to be "receptive in every direction, and in a state of perpetual discovery. In its content there is nothing 'ready made'; its gains are seeds of the future, its oracles are promises."

In short, you simply cannot obtain real theo-logy "off the rack." If you try, then it will be either too loose or too tight, or the fabric will not breathe, or it will chafe just where you need some extra growing room.

In a way, you could say that tradition provides you with the material -- the fabric -- but it is still up to you to make it into an appropriate suit of clothing. Importantly, you could never manufacture the fabric yourself, but no one else can make the suit for you. Another man's suit just won't look right on you, even if it looks great on someone else.

Now, about this vertical recollection, or turning our third ear to the Ground. Sertillanges says that "Listening to oneself is a formula that amounts to the same thing as listening to god." It "is revealed to us only in the silence of the soul," which necessarily involves some means of excluding and shutting out all that pulls us away from this center. (Please note that the "center" is anywhere the vertical is, which is everywhere, but only if one is aware of it; it is always at a right angle to the present.)

There are two forces that take us out of this center, or ground. They essentially fall under the headings of dispersion and compression, which can in turn take on endless forms.

Think, for example, of the numberless varieties of dispersion, which, you might say is the opposite of con-centration. There is nothing wrong with dispersion as such, as it is a natural part of the rhythm of being. In its absence we would be in a permanent state of frozen attention, nor would we be capable of growth.

Think of the relationship between catabolism (destructive metabolism) and anabolism (constructive metabolism) that makes metabolism as such possible. In other words, metabolism -- or, let us say, life -- could never be a result only of building up, for this would make us more like a crystal or a fungus than a man. And more minds than you know are a kind of crystalized fungus.

It is more clear that life and mind could never be a result of pure catabolism. Nevertheless, without a little death tossed into the mix, life would be strictly impossible.

Down here there is life and there is death, but only continuously. Just like the complementarity of anabolism <---> catabolism, the two are a function of a higher third which we might call Life. Yes, it is Life, but again, it is also Person. If it weren't the latter, then human persons simply wouldn't be possible. No. Way.

So, human beings can become too hard or too loose. We may even caricature the two types and not be too far from the truth, i.e., the typical loose and lazy liberal with a mind so open that his brains fall out; or the dry, desiccated and up-tight conservative church lady.

Our founders were well aware of this existential/ontological dichotomy, which is why they were so careful to steer a middle course between a loose and anarchic democracy and a sclerotic and entrenched oligarchy.

It is the same with capitalism, which is constantly creating and destroying. It "works" simply because it mirrors living reality.

And the irony, of course, is that the application of loose and lazy liberalism eventually leads to its own sclerosis and institutional deadness, as embodied in the dead-from-the-neck-up and chest-in Obama. No one is more fearful of change than a progressive. A classical liberal is simply someone who steers this middle course in order to properly metabolize reality at every level: physical, psychological, intellectual, economic, political, and spiritual.

Here is a pithy little wise crack by Sertillanges that goes to exactly what we're talking about: To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one. Say it again: To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one.

Do you see why? You don't want to be only multiple, but nor do you want to be only one. "Unity at the starting point is a mere void," but so too is multiplicity at the endpoint.

I was once one of those "loosely crystalized" leftists, and all I can say about that is -- let's sing it together -- "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

For "higher than the brain is the object of its devotion," which "carries the mind into vast spheres that it would never of itself have known" (Sertillanges). And this requires a great deal of flexibility, but also strength. Which yoga provides.

For we demand of knowledge that it shall unite; the knowledge that divides must always be a partial knowing good for certain practical purposes; the knowledge that unites is the knowledge. --Sri Aurobindo

Monday, September 27, 2010

Human Knowing and Human Being: Come for the Truth, Stay for the Ecstasy

I'd like to continue on the theme of "Christian yoga" by delving into a book called The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, by the Catholic priest A.G. Sertillanges. It was recommended to us by the mysterious reader Joseph, who swept in, alerted us to the book, and promptly disappeared, his work here having been done.

But as the rabbi said, God spends most of his time arranging meetings and marriages (which is why God has been so much more busy since the rise of the internet), and the former can have an influence that long outlives their fleeting nature. You just never know where a good deed may lead -- nor, for that matter, how doing one may come back to haunt you. In a good way.

I guess this is on my mind because I was just explaining how it works to Future Leader yesterday. He put together a box of toys he no longer wants, in order to send them to Afghan children. Our military are able to forge ties with the community by giving them to the children, who otherwise have nothing to play with but a Koran. I tried to explain the principle of "what goes around comes around" to FL, and that eventually someone else would do him a good turn. He said, "but I don't want a Koran."

Okay, that last sentence was a joke. But the rest is true.

The Intellectual Life is really a meditation on the internal and external conditions necessary for what I would call a "Christian gnana yoga," or yoga of knowledge -- knowledge of God, to be be precise. These conditions are obviously quite different from those of a profane intellectual life, which pretty much don't matter. Anyone can do that, so long as they are a conformist with a good memory who can parrot back the current truth of the tenured rabble.

This book has nothing to do with that type of vulgar intellectual, who should really be called an "intellectualist," or someone who reveres and bows down before a disembodied intellect that is neither grounded in any transcendent reality -- which is to say reality -- nor bearing upon anything higher than a sack full of genetic copying errors that can accidentally "think."

But if errors could think, they would produce only error, not the least of which being errors about what intelligence is, where it comes from, and what its purpose is. Human intelligence severed from its sacred roots will eventually become demonic, because the intelligence in question is no longer human. Or, perhaps more problematically, all too human.

I have a note to myself at the back of the book: all true thought is a prayer, a link between being and existence.

I'm not even sure if I can usefully trancelight this book, since it is already so full of pithy insights that there's not much to add to it. But I'll try.

In the foreword, James Schall writes of "the intimate relationship between our knowing the truth" and "ordering our own souls to the good."

There you go: Christian yoga. Real knowledge is not only rooted in being, but orders our own being. Which necessarily implies that someone with an obviously disordered soul -- say, oh, Paul Krugman -- is inevitably going to spew a kind of "knowledge" that reflects that fact. He has no earthly idea that the much deeper question about an economic system is the type of person it shapes and facilitates. And socialism simply produces an inferior man -- narrow, selfish, petty, greedy, envious, entitled, lazy, and misanthropic.

Look at Bill Maher, one of the left's other leading philosopher-comedians, along with Stewart, Colbert, Garofolo, Franken, and Krugman. The other day I heard him say that Democrats were only unpopular because they weren't campaigning on their healthcare reform monstrosity. Larry King asked him why people don't like the bill, and he said it was because "Americans are stupid."

This is an admirably honest description of exactly how the left feels about us. But as a general rule, I would say that one should be suspicious of powerful strangers who express open contempt for you, and who want to diminish your freedom in order to impose lifetime obligations on you that you yourself would impose if only you weren't such a retard. Look, not only are you stupid, but you are racist, sexist, homophobic, and Islamophobic, so why wouldn't you rally behind people who aren't any of those things, and who know better how to run your life?

Really, it's a mystery why liberals are so unpopular.

Back to Schall's point about the relationship between knowledge and the order of the soul. Oddly enough, I was predisposed to believe this based upon my own non-religious education in psychoanalysis. Long story short, I initially approached it like any other intellectual endeavor, as if it were just a matter of reading enough books and memorizing all the theories. But soon enough I realized that no amount of knowledge would make one a "healer of souls."

Rather, there first had to be a transformation in one's own being. Truly, all the "knowledge" was only a residue of that deeper reality. This is why, for example, there are so many different schools of psychoanalysis, because the actual theory one uses doesn't matter nearly as much as the state of one's own soul.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with a certain professor who remains the most deeply brilliant man I have ever actually personally known. I asked him which psychoanalytic program I should apply to, and he said, "first, pick a good analyst. Then just flip a coin." In other words, the only thing that really mattered was healing oneself. The rest was just icing on the cake. Besides, without the proper grounding in being, you wouldn't know which knowledge was true anyway.

Much of what Sertillanges says bears upon this idea of being prior to knowing. For example, he says that you must begin -- begin! -- "by creating a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work." In other words, he doesn't direct you to particular books, theories, or thinkers, but to silence.

Why silence? In order to recollect. But recollect what, if I haven't even memorized anything? Just tell me what to know, and I'll rewordgitate it for you!

Sorry. We're talking about vertical recollection, or "re-membering" the living above, not the dead past. This is why we must "acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worthwhile" (emphasis mine).

This immediately goes to the trinitarian nature of things, and the communion that is prior to, and a condition of, knowledge: "The intellectual is not self-begotten; he is the son of the Idea, of the Truth, of the creative Word, the Life-giver immanent in his creation. When the thinker thinks rightly, he follows God step by step; he does not follow his own vain fancy."

Thus, the knower is a function of Truth, not vice versa, as the typical superstitious secularist believes. Indeed, if Truth isn't prior, then there is simply no accounting for the knower, for how could knowledge be possible in the absence of truth?

The intellectual worker-be has the great privilege of taking part in "the truth conveyed to him by the universe." This "miraculous encounter" -- and it is miraculous -- is a kind of ec-stasy (which literally means to be outside, beyond, or beside oneself), "a flight upwards, away from self," a kind of self-forgetting "in order that the object of our delight may live in our thought and heart."

Christian yoga, baby. Miracles, ecstasy, delight, -- or sat-chit-ananda, being-consciousness-bliss, as they say in the East. Sounds good to me. And true.

All spiritual seeking moves towards an object of Knowledge to which men ordinarily do not turn the eye of the mind, to someone or something Eternal, Infinite, Absolute that is not the temporal things or forces of which we are sensible, although he or it may be in them or behind them or their source or creator. It aims at a state of knowledge by which we can touch, enter or know by identity this Eternal, Infinite and Absolute..., a knowledge that is not what we call knowledge but something self-existent, everlasting, infinite. And although it may or even must, since man is a mental creature, start from our ordinary instruments of knowledge, yet it must necessarily go beyond them... even if through mind and sense there can come a first glimpse of it or a reflected image. --Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga (Part II, The Yoga of Integral Knowledge)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When Bad Songs Happen to Good Artists

GE linked to a video of the musical miscegenation of Willie Nelson singing A Whiter Shade of Pale -- or in his case, A Paler Shade of White -- and that got me to thinking about other odd musical couplings that are just wrong, wrong, wrong.

For example, how about Waylon Jennings' game attempt at MacArthur Park?

Love Waylon, but you can't be singing about cowboys one minute and crying over a melted birthday cake the next. At least he gets the title right -- it's MacArthur, not MacArthur's, as incorrectly sung by Richard Harris in the hit version of 1968. I know it's MacArthur, because when I was a young 'un, my grandmother used to take me there to feed the ducks. She still called it Westlake Park, even though they renamed it in 1942.

That's just how she rolled, especially after dementia set in. She actually met her second husband there on a park bench. Turned out the bench was his home. He was an unemployed (technically never employed) actor who called himself Rudy Rudaché. My only real memory of him is of sleeping on the couch in his briefs. He also had a very hairy -- even furry -- back, which was his best feature. He would probably call it "luxuriant" if he knew the word.

Here's one of the strangest couplings, both literally and figuratively, Gregg Allman and Cher (says the embedding link is "disabled by request" -- everyone's). Did Cher ignore some red flags before diving into this marriage? Probably. Like the time they were at an Italian restaurant and Gregg was face-down in a plate of spaghetti. But what doesn't kill you makes you stranger.

Ironically, or maybe not, her first husband, Sonny, became a right-wing populist, but he died as a result of planting his face into a pine tree while skiing on vicodin and valium. But Gregg -- who is still shambling strong -- could have told him: leave it to the professionals.

What's Christmas without Bob Dylan doing a zydeco Christmas song? At least it has some weirdness value, but I wouldn't want to hear it more than once:

This is just sad -- the Kinks doing a disco song back in the late '70s. In their defense, it was beginning to look like disco would never go away. What can one do but adapt to the new musical environment? The Stones also had their disco moment with Miss You, but they were always musical opportunists anyway. Ray Davies had some artistic integrity.

Keith Moon -- who went to his grave believing that he should be the lead singer of the Who -- released a solo album in 1975. He was a huge fan of surf music, and here he mangles Brian Wilson's classic Don't Worry Baby:

I wish I could give you a link to James Brown's version of Mona Lisa, but it's probably for the best.

It's things like this that make people forget that Buck Owens was one of the great Cosmo-American artists:

But this only proves that even the greatest Cosmo-American artists can make mistakes:

Even better -- Frank's version of Mrs. Robinson, with improved lyrics, such as: So how's your bird, Mrs. Robinson / Mine is fine as wine and I should know / ho ho ho. ("Bird" was Frank's universal term for genitals, which opens up a whole new dimension in his music. In fact, John Lennon's song And Your Bird Can Sing makes reference to just this fact. And now you know the rest of the story.)